Author Archives: amoyaan

A Revolutionary New Understanding of Experience and Reality

Lights of ideas

In the last post in this series, I explored the fundamental conflict at the heart of the human psyche. We’re at war! A war between who we are, who we think we are and who we are choosing to be in daily life. The cost of war is always immense, and the suffering can blight an entire lifetime. We become prisoners of our own mind, thoughts and concepts about ourselves.

The answer, as I suggested, is to lay down our arms, hold up the flag of surrender and learn to create a harmonious synergy between the the three aspects of the human ego: the essential self, the imagined self and the social self. I’ll be exploring this in greater detail later on; the art of living an authentic life that is in alignment with who we really are. As Socrates said:

“Give me the beauty of the inward soul: may the outward and the inward man be at one.”

A life without authenticity, without living in harmony with one’s own nature, is never going to be a particularly happy one. It took me a number of years to realise that it’s simply not possible to find lasting happiness when there’s a disparity at the core of our psyche: a gulf between who we are and who we are choosing to be in daily life.

Addressing this imbalance does takes a little time and work. It rarely happens at the click of our fingers, as nice as that would be. Before we can move forward, it’s important to recognise how the mind keeps us in bondage. That is the key to everything. Our entire experience of reality is filtered and distorted by the mind. The only way to be free is to understand this and learn how to make our mind work for and not against us.

What follows is an inquiry into the nature of experience. This may be the most important section of this series. Once you truly understand what I’m about to tell you, your life will never be the same again.

There is a way out of suffering and the good news is you don’t need to spend thousands on therapy, workshops, seminars, books and training. The mind is liberated by knowledge—knowledge of reality and how the mind works. If knowledge is power, then self-knowledge is liberation. All you need to do is read on with an open mind and be willing to reflect on what I’m about to share.

 Out of touch with reality

It was a bright Spring day and I decided it was time to take the dogs for a walk. So I put on my coat, leashed them up and set off. Although I was gone for about half an hour, before I knew it I was back at the door. I suddenly realised that I’d barely experienced the walk at all!

If you’d asked me to describe in any great detail where I’d gone, what the weather was like, and what I’d seen, I’d only have been able to give the most cursory of responses. You see, I hadn’t been walking the dogs at all—I’d been sleepwalking the dogs. I was completely lost in thought the whole time. I was walking around on autopilot, tuning out virtually all sensory stimuli in order to indulge whatever was going on in my mind. I was barely interfacing with my environment at all.

I realised two things that day. Firstly, that this is not a particularly satisfying way to live. And secondly, that human beings actually experience reality through a kind of bubble: an invisible mind-made bubble comprised of thoughts, words, concepts, memories and fantasies.

We tend to assume that we experience just a single, objective reality, but that is not the case. There are actually two levels of reality. Well, actually there are three, but I will go into that another time, as I want to keep this as simple as possible.

The first is the concrete objective reality. This is a shared reality, comprising where we are physically and what’s going on around us. The second is an abstract subjective reality. Made entirely of thought, this is a mind-based and therefore private level of reality. On my aforementioned walk, the latter was every bit as real to me as the first, and virtually all my cognitive energy was being channeled into it.

Even when the mind is comparatively quieter and we aren’t as lost in the ceaseless chatter of our inner monologue, there’s still no escaping the fact that this mind-bubble comes between us and a clear, direct, fresh experience of life. We’re asleep at the wheel, simultaneously inhabiting objective reality but so often lost in a superimposed, dream-like reality made entirely of thought. Pretty far out, huh?

This, by the way, is my cartoon depiction of the bubbles we live in…

thebubble

So what happens when our every experience is filtered by our mind-bubble? Basically, we no longer have authentic encounters with life, the world and other people. We no longer see and relate to what’s out there—instead we see and relate to our labels, concepts and judgements of what we think is out there. The latter is a level of complete projection and superimposition. We superimpose our thoughts and interpretations onto reality and fail to realise that in so doing we have coloured or distorted reality!

This is a mainly unconscious process and is considered normal for most people. We plod through life, lost in thought and out of touch with the world around us. You might even go so far as to say that every human being is engaged in a mind-created virtual reality. This virtual reality is always distorted to a greater or lesser extent and is often chock full of manufactured threats. We’re literally having bad trips and seeing all manner of horrors, many of which are simply imagined. Our inner world of course determines our behavioural responses and this explains why human behaviour is often incredibly warped and insane.

Where do we experience things?

Let’s take this even deeper. Bear with me—you will be duly rewarded, I promise. This is a radical understanding that, properly understood, is guaranteed to forever change the way you look at life.

As with most cool things in life, it starts with an interesting question. Where do we experience things? Do we experience things outside of us, or inside of us?

It’s natural to assume that we look through our eyes much the same way as we look out of a window, and that we experience reality out there. This is called ‘naive realism’. Here’s another Rory cartoon to illustrate:

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“Naive realism”: how we think perception and experience happens

 

But it’s actually impossible to experience anything out there. If I look at a tree, it might seem that I’m experiencing the tree over there. But I’m actually experiencing it in my mind. Data is being relayed by my senses and processed by my mind, which then creates an internal representation of a tree. What I’m experiencing is a tree thought!

Our entire experience of reality is simply a representation of reality created by our mind. We’re not experiencing a world of things out there, what we’re actually experiencing is a world of thoughts, in here.

The mind is the instrument by which we perceive objects; the mirror that reflects objective reality. We cannot perceive anything outside of our mind. No mind, no experience. So everything that we perceive and experience in life, even though it may appear to be outside of us, is actually perceived and experienced in our mind.

"Representational realism": how perception and experience actually happens

“Representational realism”: how perception and experience actually happens

The implications of this are pretty staggering! If you’re still reading this, you deserve a muffin.

Twice removed from reality

This obviously turns a few things on their head. The general assumption is that we simply experience things. When we actually stop to analyse the nature of experience, we come to realise that, as I said above, it’s not the things themselves that we experience, it’s our internal representation of those things.

And because of the mental overlay that filters our interpretation of experience, we rarely have an accurate, unbiased interpretation of experience. We lose touch with objective reality and get stuck in our own little subjective reality.

New stimulus is constantly coming in through the senses, creating new internal representations of reality. And the mind is constantly filtering those representations. Attempting to make sense of the input and discern a narrative pattern, the mind is constantly churning out thoughts and stories, based upon past conditioning, experiences and memories, beliefs and opinions, likes and dislikes and numerous other factors.

So not only is our perception of reality taking place within the mind, but it’s also filtered and interpreted by the mind. Our experience of reality is actually twice removed from reality!

Two levels of reality

One of the conclusions we can draw from this analysis is that it can be very difficult to separate the objective (what is) from the subjective (what we think is). We naturally assume that what we are experiencing is objective, but it’s almost always subjective.

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It’s on the subjective level where the problems lie. The bubble, as I call it, gets in the way: the mental repository of all kinds of faulty scripts and coding; self-sabotaging errors that colour everything we experience; everything that we think and do. Our mental filter gets distorted and this in turn generates a painful experience of reality.

The understanding that there are two levels of reality is an important one. In fact, it is the key to liberating your mind.

To summarise again, the levels of reality are:

The objective: the ‘real world’; the world of tangible ‘things’, namely objects and experiences. The reality we seemingly experience out there and which is more or less the same for everyone.

The subjective: the ‘inner world’; the filtered reality we experience as shaped by our thoughts, experiences and conditioning.

The problems arise when we confuse the two through a process of superimposition—and this happens all the time! Mistaking our interpretation of experience as being concrete reality is a surefire recipe for disaster and is in fact the root of just about all human conflict in the world. We’re not actually seeing things as they are. We’re instead trapped in our bubble; and the bubble can be a pretty miserable place to be!

live-in-bubble

Perhaps you can see how this creates all kinds of chaos in human interaction. Let’s say you come into the room and start talking to me. Here’s what will inevitably happen. My mind will filter and interpret what you are saying in line with what I already think and believe. It’ll be coloured by my general mood and any past experiences I may have had with you, be they good or bad. Accordingly, it won’t really be you or what you’re saying that I’ll be experiencing—it’ll be my own interpretations of you and what you’re saying.

Objective reality is always value neutral and it’s usually very simple. You entered the room and started talking; nothing more, nothing less. But I’ve lost touch with objective reality. I’m in my subjective reality. As far as I’ve concerned you’ve interrupted me when I’m busy, are talking crap and are a bit of a jerk. I see that as the reality of the situation. Only it isn’t reality at all.

Events in themselves are neutral. It’s our mind that assigns meaning and value to experience, either positive or negative. So my thoughts have distorted reality and caused suffering for me—and this will probably make me act in a certain way that causes offence or suffering for you too. Human relationships are so complex because each interaction involves not two people, but four. There’s not only you and I, but there’s your mental image of who you think I am and my mental image of who you think you are. These are almost like mental avatars, and it’s those avatars that are really driving relationships!

Experience is determined by thought

Let’s pull this all together. We don’t perceive anything outside of our mind; that’s simply not possible, for the mind is our instrument of perception. What we perceive are actually internal representations in our mind. Furthermore, we rarely experience those representations objectively. We perceive things as we think they are, for every experience is processed through the filter of our thoughts, beliefs, likes, dislikes and conditioning. Reality is value neutral, but the mind assigns value, either positive or negative. As Shakespeare wrote:

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

The mind’s job is to not only process sensory stimuli, but to attempt to make sense of it and fit it into some kind of narrative structure. It does this by creating stories around the things we experience. We relate to life through a veritable library of mental stories. When then tend to get stuck in these stories, which, through the process of projection and superimposition, we mistake as being reality. In actual fact, we’re completely out of touch with reality and are inhabiting a kind of virtual reality. If our thoughts and interpretations are suitably negative and self-limiting, this virtual reality can be our own living hell.

So what can we do about this? How do we deal with the bubble that’s filtering and distorting our reality? How do we stop ourselves getting sucked into subjective alternate realities and the suffering that comes along with them? We do that by bursting the bubble! We apply knowledge about the nature of mind and reality. Quite simply, we learn to reduce the subjective to the objective.  Once we’ve got a clear grasp on how to do that, we’re pretty much home free and that is what I will be exploring in the next essay.

Things I Wish I’d Known About Writing From the Start, Part 1: In Order to Write Well, You Have to Write a Lot

Originally posted on The Dreamlight Fugitive:

Hi everyone! This is the first in a series of short blogs in which I’m going to share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years as a writer.

man-writing-books

My journey to being a published author wasn’t always an easy one. In retrospect a lot of that was down to the fact I wasn’t approaching things with the right mindset. I’m naturally quite an idealistic and romantic person and looking back I can see how this, coupled with an unrealistic perception of the writing industry, a streak of crippling perfectionism and self-doubt, sabotaged my writing career for at least a decade. If I knew then what I now know, it would all have been so much easier!

The first thing I wish I knew back then was simply this: no one is born a good writer. Sure, some people do exhibit greater natural skill at writing that others. In school I was always praised for my…

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A Mind At War

Understanding and Ending the Civil War in Your Mind

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 One of the main reasons for psychological suffering, or ‘dirty pain’ (mind-created pain), is that almost everyone is fighting an inner civil war. Our mind is at war, and has been for most of our life. It’s a war that few of us are consciously aware of, but this inner conflict drives just about all our thinking, emotions, behaviour and relationships. It’s responsible for an enormous amount of suffering and stress. In short, this core conflict is the war between who we think we are, who we try to be and who we actually are.

Born Perfect

The seeds of this conflict were sown in early childhood, around the time we first began to understand linguistic communication and in particular that most lethal of all words: should. Contrary to the Christian notion of ‘original sin’, which teaches that we are born miserable, selfish, wretched sinners, I contend that we are born perfect. If you struggle with the word ‘perfect’, then think you might substitute it for ‘perfect imperfection’.

Philosophers, theists, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists have long sought to answer the age-old question of whether human nature is essentially good or bad. Looking back over human history and switching on the evening news it’s all-too easy to decide that human beings are not only bad, but also truly and irredeemably mad. The history books and media are full of accounts of human violence and savagery. There’s no getting away from this and it tends to be on such a scale that overshadows all else, as in the case of wars and conflicts, but it would be wrong to assume that this is all that human beings are capable of.

Swedish anthropologist Lasse Berg, having studied premodern tribal cultures for years has demonstrated that essentially human beings are a species of cooperation, peace, curiosity, with a desire to live in harmony. Scientists at Harvard and Yale have recently confirmed this with studies into human intuitive response. Their findings strongly indicated that we are predisposed to being cooperative rather than selfish and that human nature is essentially ‘good’. Greed, selfishness and violence is not then an innate part of our nature. It is a distortion of our nature. If our nature is fine, the dysfunction must come from our nurture and from living in a society that has lost all balance.

 

The Essential Self

SONY DSCWe all come into this world with an innate and essential perfection. No one (at least I would hope no one) looks down at a newborn baby and decides “nah, this is a crap baby! I want a better one.” The perfection is there, and even the most hardened of hearts can sense it, even if that baby does happen to do little more than burp, gurgle, cry and poop.

Our little baby bodies functioned exactly as they needed to, effortlessly knowing how to breathe and respire oxygen, how to circulate blood and digest food and how to grow according to the innate creative intelligence of the body—which is simply the creative intelligence of the universe (is there a difference? We are the universe!).

We cried when we were hungry, tired, or just plain cranky. It all happened so naturally. As we grew up and learned to walk, talk, play and laugh and express ourselves in so many different ways, there was an innate perfection to it all. We spontaneously expressed our own nature. This nature wasn’t chosen by us, or even by our parents. It was the factory default—our essential self; what we innately, authentically are.

None of us are responsible for the way things are set up. Our body and our nature were given to us—formed by numerous factors, both innate and environmental. We’re not even responsible for the thoughts that we think. They just kind of appear, don’t they? If you were the one doing the thinking, then you’d be able to tell me what you’ll be thinking in thirty seconds time. But you can’t. The thinking is largely just happening by itself.

Our essential nature expresses itself in its own unique way, but there are certain personality types and archetypes that humans fall into. Some people naturally love the outdoors, being in nature, or being among people, playing exuberantly, going on adventures, whereas others are naturally quieter and more introspective, creative and thoughtful. When we get to the section on the gunas we’ll develop an even greater understanding of the factors that differentiate us in terms of personality types and behaviour.

Tribal societies were often arranged by taking the natural human archetypes into account. There was an understanding that in order to thrive and contribute effectively to society, people had to express their authentic nature. Some people are natural born leaders and decision-makers, some are warriors, some are healers or mystics, some are artists, some are adventurers and pioneers or prefer to follow other people’s directives. In later chapters I’ll explore what in Sanskrit is called svadharma, our unique nature as determined by our psychological and physiological makeup.

stockvault-child107864When it comes to our essential nature, we have very little say in the matter. We are what we are. Human archetypes are naturally-occurring. Just as it’s pointless for a cat to begrudge being a cat and spend its time trying to be a dog, it’s pointless and harmful trying to resist and change our basic nature. We were made a certain way, and thinking that we should be different is an act of war against our very nature; a war we never have any hope of winning.

Just as every flower, blade of grass and cloud in the sky is a perfect manifestation of life as it is, it’s important to understand that there’s nothing we need to be, do, or acquire in order to be acceptable, valid human beings.

As young children we were expressive, spontaneous, open, inquisitive, non-judgemental and generally pretty much at one with life. Even though we no doubt had a fair few tantrums along the way, we were the epitome of life. We enjoyed an authenticity and a lack of self-consciousness that tends to blight later childhood, adolescence and much of adult life too.

The Imagined Self

The problems arise as we grow up and have to learn to conform to the wishes of our parents, teachers and then society. While to an extent this is necessary and healthy, it also tends to be where we get messed up. Whereas tribal cultures would honour each individual’s essential nature and assign them the appropriate place and duty in society, modern culture has no such appreciation of archetypes.

Completely out of balance and harmony, the modern ‘developed’ world revolves around a warped set of values, in which worship of money, materialism and rampant greed drive the engine of society. While on one hand our society places great emphasis on ‘individuality’, in many ways it really just wants us to tow the line and become perfect little cogs in the  great consumer-capitalist machine.

From a young age our essential nature is throttled out of us as we go through an education system that trains us to think and behave in a certain way, to get good grades and learn to make money, be productive and consume as much as we can. In modern society we become ‘consumers’ first and ‘people’ second. Our consumer society is rooted in convincing people that they are insufficient and lacking, and will remain so until they make enough money to buy lots and lots of stuff.

As we grow up, our essential self gets buried under layer after layer of sediment. The sense of limitless and openness that came so naturally to us as young children gets contracted into limiting, deadening and oh-so-heavy clusters of thoughts, beliefs and conditioning that bleed the very life and joy out of us.

As we develop language, the use of words and concepts creates a gradual but profound shift in our outlook and our view of ourselves and life. As a more solidified ego begins to take root, we get lost in a conceptual, mind-based sense of identity. Whereas before we never really gave much thought to our sense of self (it was just a given: “I am me!”) now we begin to piece together an imagined self, which is our mental self-image; our idea of who we think we are, measured against who we think we should be.

esteem_thoughtIt’s a sense of self derived from thought—and very often distorted ones at that. A bubble is formed—a buffer between us and reality. This invisible bubble, created out of thought, beliefs and opinions, is like an overlay we place over objective reality. Instead of experiencing ourself, others and the world as they are…we experience our thoughts about them. We begin to get lost in the subjective realm. Our imagined self, our mental self-image, begins to obscure our essential self.

Again, many things influence the formation of this imagined self: layers of conditioning, beliefs, opinions, likes and dislikes, and also gender roles, nationality, religion and a number of cultural and social variables. Virtually all of these things are programmed into us based upon environmental and societal factors. Parents, peers, authority figures, media and society at large tell us in a thousands ways, overt and subtle, who we supposedly are and who we should be.

In many ways this is a natural and necessary developmental process. We have to learn to balance our desires, wants and impulses, restraining them where appropriate, to function in society. With good parenting, this can be done in a healthy and harmonious way. It’s important to realise that this stage is very much like installing an operating system on a computer. Even the slightest little glitches will cause problems down the line; from minor errors to huge system-wide failures.

While children need to learn discipline and self-control as part of their developmental process, this is where a number of potentially crippling errors slip into the software. The moment we begin to internalise the word ‘should’, and all of the demands imposed upon us by usually well-meaning parents, teachers and other authority figures, we begin to feel, consciously or unconsciously that something isn’t quite right with us; that our natural way of being, behaving and expressing ourself is somehow wrong. We believe that in order to be acceptable to others, we have to be different.

You might think of this as the true ‘original sin’. In this context what does original sin actually mean? It means original error. To stick with our computing metaphor, a faulty script was embedded in our psyche—and that tiny little error will affect everything in our life from that point on.

The Social Self

The essential self has more or less been lost in the mix by this point. We forget who we are and begin to believe that we are who we think we are. We unquestioningly assume that our imagined self, our mental self-image, which was gradually programmed into us, is a true and accurate reflection of reality. The next stage in our development is a reactionary step: the creation of a social self. The social self is the person we are trying to be; the person we want others to think we are.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERABecause our self-image is almost always negative to varying degrees, we adopt a certain set of values and behaviours designed to present the most favourable version of ourselves as we can. The social self is a mask we present to the world. It’s rarely a particularly accurate or authentic representation of who we really are. It’s very much driven by our attempts to get validation—and if not validation, then at the very least attention.

The desire to fit in is something that is hard-wired into the human mind. We naturally want to keep in with the tribe. We have a deeply-ingrained need to be accepted, validated and to be in good standing with others (this obviously doesn’t account for people with personality disorders or other developmental issues, but that is a whole other discussion).

Throughout history human beings have lived in tribes, and it was essential that the individual maintained their place in the tribe, for to be cast out meant inevitable death. So it should come as no surprise that the moment people in positions of authority start making demands of us—making it clear that we will only get love and attention if we behave in the ways they want us to—some primordial mechanism in our psyche kicks in.

Because we naturally want to fit in and be loved and accepted, we do our very best to become the person we believe we ‘should’ be and behave in the ways we are ‘supposed to’. Some might argue that the only alternative is anarchy, but this is not true. By bringing all the social and imagined self into alignment and congruence with the essential self, we have a heck of a lot more we can contribute to society. Again, in later chapters we’ll discuss archetypes and following our own nature, which comes with its own inbuilt dharma, which means duty or right action. Life and the functioning of society can work so much better when lived from a core of authenticity.

A life at war

So far we’ve outlined how the inner war of the psyche begins. Perhaps it begins quite innocently, but it is a war against our very nature and over time it will gradually consume us. Our essential self gets buried under the weight of what others tell us we are and what we should be. This causes an often negative, distorted imagined self, which leads us to adopt the mask of a largely inauthentic social self. Perhaps you can see where this has happened in your own life? The symptoms are often a stifling dissatisfaction, the feeling that we aren’t living the life that feels right for us, that we’re compromising who we are and who we want to be in some way.

mastery-of-the-mindWe end up spending a lifetime trying to make ourself acceptable to others, to society and the world—and, above all, to ourselves. After all, when it comes down to it, the person with the biggest problem with us is usually us. How insane is that? If we had a dog that didn’t like itself or didn’t feel that it was adequate as a canine, then we’d think it pretty strange. That would have to be one very messed up dog! Yet this is almost the rule for human beings.

As I said before, this struggle in the psyche is quite unconscious for the majority of people. We are usually unaware of the core conflict that is driving our thoughts, emotions and behaviour—and consuming such a tremendous amount of energy.

Pretty much everything that we do is a means to elevate our lowly little imagined selves, to make us feel better by proving that we are worthy, valid and acceptable as human beings. Whether we channel our efforts into being successful at a chosen career, amassing great wealth, working out to have a hot body or having the biggest car or the prettiest garden in the neighbourhood, so much of what we do is based on the need to be more, better or different.

Some would contend that this pathological compulsion to prove ourselves is necessary to motivate us to get up off our behinds and actually do stuff. I disagree. If we felt good about ourselves we’d still do stuff, and we’d probably do it a heck of a lot better because we’d be doing it with the right attitude and not from a sense of lack and inadequacy. It’s far easier for a happy, whole and peaceful person to contribute to the world than it is for someone mired in misery and limitation.

Based on a lie

What good can come of war but suffering and the tendency for the conflict to perpetuate, leading to yet more suffering? And it’s all based on what? The assumption that we are not okay as we are: that we are insufficient, unworthy and unacceptable until we get manage live up to some externally-imposed ideal (and even then, the suffering and dissatisfaction perpetuates, projected onto some other area of perceived lack).

The war against our nature, the driving desire to validate ourselves by being, doing and acquiring whatever we think will make us whole is a huge waste of time and precious life energy. Why? Because, try though you might, you can’t ever gain what you never lacked. If you were born perfect, how can you ever lose that perfection? It doesn’t suddenly disappear one day in a puff of smoke and out the window.

A gold ring will always be gold. The ring might get a little dirty, scratched and tarnished over the years, but it can never lose its gold-ness. You can never lose the perfection of who you are any more than the ring can lose its gold. So what goes wrong? Ignorance happens. You convince yourself that you’ve lost it. Internalising the demands imposed upon you, you convince yourself that you need to be more, better and different in order to be sufficient. A sense of insufficiency becomes the driving force behind all that you do, and it creates a huge amount of suffering.

It’s time to move beyond that unaccountably self-destructive notion. It’s time to finally realise that no matter what you might think and what others might have told you…you are okay.

You are more than okay.

You don’t need to change anything about yourself. You can if you want to of course, but you no longer need to. You may still have a truckload of issues and so-perceived imperfections, garnered after a lifetime spent out of touch with your essential self and under the spell of the imagined self. This is only just mud covering the diamond. The muck isn’t the diamond, and the diamond isn’t actually in any way affected by the mud.

What we are at the core of our being is something beautiful and precious, something with the capacity to bring much value to this world. It’s time to see the mud for what it is: layers of accumulated, encrusted mind-stuff. Erroneous, distorted thoughts that we assumed told us something about who we were, but which didn’t in any way. Whether you now take the time to scrape off that sediment or whether you simply accept it and take your value from knowing that you are the diamond beneath, you can accept yourself as you are and finally end this inner war that has caused a lifetime of suffering.

I’m asking you to lay down your arms. You don’t need to fight against yourself any longer. You don’t have to acquire anything, be anything or do anything in order to be free. Freedom is simply the shedding of ignorance and realising, with the entirety of your being, that you are already free. It may not currently feel like it, so you might need to take a leap of faith until I fully prove it to you, but if you stick with this and keep up this line of inquiry, freedom will become a living, breathing reality for you. Let’s take the leap together. I’ve outlined the problem and next I will offer a solution.

The Problem of Suffering

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This is the first in a series of articles that will form the basis of a book to be published later in the year. It is about Jailbreaking the mind — everything I’ve ever learned about understanding the mind, overcoming psychological suffering and being free!

 

The wound is the place where the Light enters you – Rumi

No one escapes suffering in life. It’s simply not possible. It’s an unavoidable byproduct of being alive, and one of the most fundamental aspects of human experience. The very act of birth is suffering, and sooner or later every human being will grow to experience pain in many forms, from the stress of modern life, relationship difficulties, bereavements and eventually sickness, infirmity and death. Alas, it’s all part and parcel of being human.

While there’s no getting around that fact, there are ways to transcend it, to deal with the difficulties we face and to rise up from the ashes–stronger, wiser and more powerful, resilient and happier than before. Throughout history, attempts have been made to understand and offer solutions to this core human predicament. This has been the province of philosophers and theists for thousands of years, and in recent times modern psychologists too.

There’s a wealth of information, knowledge and support out there. But it’s still up to each individual to find, understand and apply that knowledge, and to dig the way out of the dungeon of our own mind, bit by bit. And that’s where many of us have been going wrong. We simply haven’t been trained to do so; to understand how the mind works, how thought generates emotion and how to keep it all in check.

Two types of suffering

There are two basic types of suffering. Understanding this is an important key to freedom. The first is the natural suffering that is an inevitable part of life and the second is the unnatural, mind-made suffering that is generated by our thoughts, beliefs and interpretations of life. Based on terms by psychologist Steven Hayes, I talk about this as ‘clean pain’ and ‘dirty pain’. The first is experienced by all living beings and includes experiences such as loss, sickness, old age and death. Although often very painful, a person with a healthy psychology is able to deal with the experience and move on from it in a reasonable space of time.

stockvault-girl-smoking-cigarette132395Dirty pain however is unique to human beings and is an entirely mind-generated suffering. Whereas clean pain generally resolves by itself, dirty pain can be a never-ending nightmare. It has the power to consume us and cause a lifetime of aguish and suffering.

Although it may have been triggered by an external experience, dirty pain is generated and sustained entirely by thought. It is subjective and interpretative rather than objective. It stems from the mind and can only be corrected on the level of the mind. It manifests in a number of different ways, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, resentment and many other neuroses.

Modern society is failing us

stockvault-pills116310The way human suffering is dealt with in modern society is wholly inadequate. While we have developed some excellent tools and therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, generally when someone goes to their doctor with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, they are given drugs that may at best numb the feelings, but will do nothing to tackle the root cause.

Recent studies have actually shown that antidepressants are barely any more effective than placebos, which has obviously caused great concern in the medical community—although it certainly hasn’t stopped widespread prescription of what might as well be sugar pills (and which would certainly have fewer side-effects).

In a stroke of genius, the pharmaceutical industry managed to propagate the chemical imbalance theory. This is the notion that depression and other mental/emotional issues are a biological disease that could only be cured by taking whatever medication they have to offer. But as Dr Ronald Pies, editor of The Psychiatric Times stated, “in truth the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists”.

While many people feel notion that depression is a disease notion takes the social stigma out of what is already a deeply painful and very real condition, it played right into the hands of the profit-hungry pharmaceutical industry and is also entirely disempowering. Brain chemistry is not something that is set in stone. It’s constantly changing, moment by moment. Every thought that we think actually changes the chemistry of the brain! So the idea that we need drugs to do that is laughable. Change your patterns of thinking and you literally change your brain.

There is a way out

There is a way out of depression and other forms of mental and emotional suffering— and I speak from experience. In our culture we like things to be easy and swift, and we’re trained to expect instant gratification, so simply popping a pill every morning obviously has great appeal. But it’s certainly not an answer to the problem; at the very best it might help us ignore the underlying issue.

??????????????????The way out of psychological suffering is actually pretty simple. It’s based on knowledge—knowledge of what drives the mind and our entire experience of life. But it does require work and consistent effort. It requires getting down into the trenches and having the courage to question all kinds of deeply-held thoughts, beliefs and assumptions about ourselves and about life. When any mechanical apparatus ceases to function the way it should, what do we do? We don’t try to mask the problem or patch it up in the vain hope it will get better. We have to actually take it apart and develop an understanding of how it works and how to fix it.

The tendency of the mind is to project the root of our problems onto external factors, but the truth is the large part of human suffering is generated by the mind. We’re in a prison of our own mind’s making. The mind spins a subjective reality that sucks us in, causing an incredible amount of needless pain and suffering, not just for ourselves but also others.

Stay tuned over the next few months for what will essentially be a crash course in understanding how the mind works, how it creates our suffering, and how to break free of it.

Stuck in Alternate Realities

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The Buddhists have a cool saying:

The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.

It’s a sobering thought, but the vast majority of people are trapped in the prison of their own mind. Life is perceived only through the filters of mind, creating a kind of alternate subjective reality that is superimposed over objective reality. We don’t perceive things as they are, we perceive them as we think they are, based upon layers upon layers of conditioning and mind-gunk. Freedom is seeing things as they are, as opposed to how we THINK they are.

We live life with a continuous mental commentary running in their heads. Every single experience is processed through a filter of our thoughts, beliefs and prejudices. It is then neatly distilled into a story in our minds. A story. That’s it. We relate to life through a veritable library of mental stories. We so rarely experience reality as it is. Instead we’re stuck in our interpretations, our stories of what we THINK reality is. We no longer inhabit objective reality, we’re stuck in our little subjective, alternate reality bubble.

This is the cause of so much suffering, in our lives and in the world. This is the reason that all wars are fought and all conflict arises. My thoughts (which I am totally identified with and which I think comprise ‘me’) are contrary to your thoughts (which comprise ‘you’). Deep down we know that our thoughts and identity are ultimately hollow and that’s why we then have an unconscious compulsion solidify our sense of self and sadly most people do that by attacking and making enemies of those we deem to be ‘opposite’ or ‘other’. But none of it is real. Byron Katie poses an interesting question: “who would you be without your story?” The answer can be summed up in one word. Free.

The Creative Life: How to Overcome Self-Doubt

Reblogged from my Dreamlight Fugitive Blog

I’m excited to be relaunching my Dreamlight Fugitive blog in addition to my main blog, Beyond the Dream! My first new post is about something that affects everyone in any creative field: the arch-enemy of creative expression…self doubt!

Illustration by Jack Spellman (jackspellmanart.co.uk)

Yesterday, having finally finished my new novel after a year and a half of work (and the rest! But that’s another story!), I was clobbered over the head by an attack of self doubt. I’d just ordered proofing copies yet I found myself going back and picking away at random sentences, trying to find better ways of stringing the words together in order to reach that most elusive of writerly goals: the ‘perfect sentence’!

One thing led to another and I soon started to question the entire book. What if it wasn’t ready to be put out into the world? Feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction quickly turned to feelings of anxiety and dread. What if I was in fact one of the worst writers ever to pick up a pen or hammer away at a keyboard? I’m safe at the moment, but the moment the book is published it’s a target and as the one-stars reviews come flooding in, I’ll be revealed as the terrible hack I am! I even very briefly considered binning the entire book and starting again from scratch.

That’s how self-doubt works! It’s a vicious, pernicious and potentially crippling little monster. It hides away in the darkest recesses of the mind and is prone to jumping out at inopportune moments and letting rip with its penchant for woeful catastrophising. It’s something that every artist and writer must learn to live with and it does get easier with time.

Most of the time I have it under control. But coming to the end of a project, when you are actually taking the steps to releasing that work into the world, makes the self-doubt monster terribly antsy. Stirring from its slumber like a cat that was only really half-asleep the whole time, you know the meltdown is inevitable.

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“You’re thinking of publishing THAT? Are you crazy?! It needs at least another year of work. The critics are gonna tear it to shreds!”

Now, a little self-doubt is healthy. It gives us a certain objectivity about our work, which is useful in the editing stage (and throughout, really). It becomes harmful however when it degenerates into an overwrought, mud-slinging, anxiety-ridden neurotic monster, determined to convince us that nothing we do is good enough and that we’d be better off setting it aside and slumping onto the sofa and firing up Netflix. So pervasive and persuasive is the self-doubt monster, it’s almost certainly destroyed countless artists’ careers before they’ve even had the chance to get in the game. Left unchecked, this inner censor will not only hinder your creativity, it will completely destroy it and leave you a blubbering and, above all, blocked wreck!

The self-doubt monster is actually pretty easy to deal with it however. And here’s how.

First of all, take the ‘self’ out of self-doubt. It has nothing to do with who you are. It’s simply a thought and that thought’s corresponding emotion. It’s actually completely impersonal. We all get it — everyone, in every walk of life! It’s certainly not unique to us. Self-doubt is basically fear. It’s a defence mechanism designed to somehow keep us safe, even if it is a little misinformed and ultimately wholly counterproductive. Depersonalising it immediately takes the sting out of it.

Secondly, once I’ve depersonalised it, I personify it. This might make me sound utterly crazy, but I find it helpful to give it a name and form. I call my self-doubt monster Fred. Fearful Fred. He looks like a big, fat and slightly ungainly grey caterpillar. Most the time he just wiggles about in the recesses of my mind, doing whatever it is caterpillars do. Occasionally however, something gets Fred riled and he gets all worked out and inflates in size, becoming a gargantuan blob full of his own hot air. This happened last night when I somehow convinced myself I was the worst writer in human history.

I isolated the emotion in my body (it seemed to be around my belly, or solar plexus) and I decided to have a chat with Fred (as the personification of my self-doubt). He was beside himself with fear, anxiety and dread. So I made him a cup of tea, sat him down and explained that I’m grateful he’s so diligent in looking out for me, but there was no need for such stress and worry. Yeah, it’s always a little scary releasing a new piece of work into the world, as it probably is for a baby bird being pushed out of its nest in the hopes it will fly for the first time. But I reminded myself the importance of keeping everything in perspective.

I wrote an article last year about the power of karma yoga. Karma yoga isn’t a sequence of physical postures as you might expect, but a mindset with which we approach life. As it says in the Bhagavad Gita, we have the right to act, but the fruit of those actions is not up to us. So the karma yoga attitude — which is the greatest antidote to stress that I know — is simply to do our best and let go of the results. Once an arrow has been fired it’s no longer up to us whether it hits the intended target. Chances are we’ve done our best to ensure that it does, but it’s now under the control of a set of natural laws and dynamics that are completely outwith our sphere of influence. All we can do is relax, take it easy and endeavour to take whatever comes with good grace.

The self-doubt monster can be an implacable and relentless foe to any creative person. It’s probably cost me years of my life. I’m certain I’d have more than one novel published by now if I hadn’t spent years under the sway of Fred, bless his heart. Now I’ve learned to master my mind and emotions a little bit more. This doesn’t mean that self-doubt and other self-limiting thoughts vanish forever. But it does mean that when they come up I can put them in their place and simply get on with things. As the Tao Te Ching says:

Mastering others is strength; mastering ourselves is true power.

Self-doubt and anxiety are defence mechanisms generated by the unconscious mind to keep us safe. But we are safe! As artists we follow our calling, we write the stories and paint the pictures that our muse is kind enough to share with us. We learn and grow and improve our skills all the time. We make mistakes, but mistakes are an essential part of the learning curve. Never be afraid to make mistakes! And never allow yourself to be held prisoner to the tyranny of other people’s opinions. Some people will love what you do, and some people won’t. Some people are fair in their criticism and some people are jerks with clear psychological deficiencies (I now refrain from reading comments sections on youtube and other websites because of this!).

Learn to wrestle with your self-doubt monster. Or make it a cup of tea as I do. Usually once I’ve had a firm but loving chat with Fred, I imagine sending him off on an all-expenses paid vacation to Tenerife where he can just relax in the sun all day drinking Pina Colada while I get on with what I have to do.

Self-doubt is ignorance masquerading as truth. Don’t let it cripple you. Take charge of it and educate it. You’re doing fine, let it know that and these lagging parts of the mind will eventually catch up. When we no longer give fear or doubt power over us, when we educate them and put them into perspective, we give ourselves the greatest gift of all. Freedom! And freedom is the ultimate goal of all creative — and moreover, all human — endeavour! So dance with your doubts and allow yourself to be free.

This fantastic song and video by one of my favourite artists, Bat For Lashes, is about just that. This was the song that Natasha Khan wrote after a long spell of creative block, and it’s very much about learning to tame and dance with the monsters of self-doubt, despair and fear. Enjoy.

Blogsuscitation!

Hi everyone. It’s been a long while since I’ve written a proper blog entry. I feel it’s probably necessary to start off with a little bit of blog resuscitation! Stand back…

Closeup of defibrillator paddles

Ah, that’s better! I’m happy to announce that…

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There are a number of reasons for my absence, but the main one is that I’ve been so busy finishing off my new novel. It’s taken an inordinate amount of time and energy over the past year and a half, but I’m delighted to announce that it’s finally done and the book will soon be on its way to be proofread. I’m looking at a Summer launch, and very excited about finally being able to share this work with – you! Entitled THE KEY OF ALANAR, it’s a story that’s close to my heart and has been with me most of my life (I initially began working on the ideas when I was only sweet sixteen). It’s wonderful to know that I’ll soon be able to share this journey with the rest of the world — and it is quite a journey!

With a new novel release planned, I’ve decided to live dangerously and commit myself to not one, but two blogs. First of all, I will be relaunching this blog and have a number of ideas for posts, a number of which will tie into a self help book I intend to release later in the year. I’ll be sharing more about this project in the months to come. I also intend to write a great deal about vedanta, and take some time to unfold this ancient science of enlightenment and self knowledge. It’s been one of the greatest blessings in my life and it’s going to be amazing to share it with you.

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My other blog, The Dreamlight Fugitive, will be dedicated to writing, fiction, art and the creative process in general.

I hope you will hop on by and follow it, because I intend to update it weekly and have a great many cool things I’m going to share, including sneak previews and behind the scenes of my new novel and also a lot of insight into the process of writing and publishing a book. I intend to relaunch it in the next few days, so do check it out at – https://dreamlightfugitive.wordpress.com.

Well, this hasn’t been the most exciting of posts, but it’s been a necessary one – we have a pulse again, and I’m looking forward to blogging regularly again. I’ve missed you guys.

Life owes us nothing

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A great many people operate under the unconscious assumption that life owes them something. Which is not only untrue, but actually creates a great deal of misery and resentment because the reality of the situation simply doesn’t match up to that.

Life doesn’t owe us a thing. It’s already given us everything we have and everything we are. It’s given us a body, mind, intellect, and provided for our every need; air, food, water, shelter and everything else we need to survive. All we really have to do is put food in one end and allow our body to do all the work digesting, functioning, healing, growing and developing, forever maintaining its own homeostatic balance. And yet we still think that life owes us something?

The attitude that life should somehow be better and that it should match up to whatever ideas we have in our minds, is a total fallacy. Our wants and likes and dislikes mean very little objectively. Life doesn’t care what we want — we’re not special, we’re just part of the totality and the totality takes care of the totality, making little concessions for little human egos. Sometimes we get what we want, if the circumstances are conducive, but oftentimes we don’t because what we want simply isn’t that important. Assuming there are no obstructions, life simply gives us what we need. I’ve found that this realisation shifts our attitude from one of entitlement, frustration and often bitterness to one of complete humility and gratitude. We actually need very little in life. So long as we have food, clothing and shelter, things pretty much take care of themselves.

The Ufaina tribe in the Colombian Amazon believe that when a person is born, a small amount of vital force is ‘borrowed’ to them and that when they die, this energy is released back to the totality where it gets recycled again and again. Essentially, we’re all living on borrowed life energy, in a borrowed body.

We assume the body is ours but if it was, surely we’d have had some say in its selection and more control over its functioning. The body is actually just this object that appears in our awareness, functioning more or less autonomously as long as we put the appropriate stuff in and let the appropriate stuff out. If our body ‘belongs’ to anyone it surely belongs to our parents  because it came from them….what a thought! But their bodies don’t belong to them either.

It’s all just borrowed, for a finite amount oftime! Eventually we have to give it all back, because it’s a debt that we owe life for simply existing in this world.

When you realise that life owes you nothing and in fact you owe life everything, how does that change the way you look at life, the way you live and the attitude with which you greet every day? For some reason it’s surprisingly liberating when you cease holding up life to ransom and recognise that the very fact you exist is not a ‘right’, but an amazing gift and one that could actually be taken back at any time!

Tao Te Ching 54: Living With Integrity

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– 54 –

That which is well planted in the Tao cannot be uprooted.
That which embraces the Tao
will not slip away.
Those who honour the Tao
will be honoured from generation to generation.
If the Tao is cultivated in your life

you will become genuine.
If the Tao is cultivated in your family
your family will flourish.

If the Tao is cultivated in your country
your country will be an example

to all countries in the world.
If the Tao is cultivated in the world,
then virtue will be with everyone.
How do I know this is true?
By looking within myself.

~

Commentary

To simply read and try to understand the words of the Tao Te Ching is insufficient. Each verse is an invitation to embody and actually live the wisdom of the Tao. This verse again emphasises the virtue of coming into alignment with the Tao; which is not so much something to be striven for, but simply allowed to happen. When we clear the obstructions to our true nature, we can be firmly planted in the Tao and nothing in the world of the ten thousand things will be able to uproot us.

The effects of being at one with our nature, with the Tao, spread outward like ripples across the surface of a pond, for in truth nothing exists in isolation. This allows us to cultivate the way of the Tao in all our actions and interactions: in our family life, our work life, among our friends and gradually the effects will spread outward to encompass our whole country and world. Even if the effects are subtle or seemingly invisible, they are there nonetheless.

By changing ourselves and coming into alignment with the truth of our being, which is simplicity, ease, harmony and freedom from covetousness and greed, we make it easier for others to do so. The Tao isn’t about an abstract set of concepts and beliefs — it’s about living a life of integrity, peace and harmony with the whole. This is the greatest gift we can give to the world.

If you have enjoyed this series on the Tao Te Ching, it is now available in a collected volume in both paperback and ebook format on Amazon! Be sure to check it out.

My Tao Te Ching book is now available to buy!

Hi everyone! I’m pleased to announce that the paperback version of my Tao Te Ching book is now available on Amazon and is currently on sale at cost price. The Tao Te Ching is a remarkable gift, and I wanted to be able to share it as such.

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Five years ago I set myself the challenge of creating my own version of this ancient text. I wanted to encapsulate the best of my favourite translations, retaining the text’s integrity and poetic flourish while making some of the more cryptic statements (of which there are a great many!) a little clearer and easier to understand.

I spent time reflecting on each verse and pondering the meaning of Lao Tzu’s words and then wrote a commentary on each one. I did this for myself more than anything, but decided to share it on this and my prior blogs. A lot of people have really enjoyed my take on the Tao, which has subtly evolved over the years as my own understanding has grown. Here is my introduction to the text.

I’ve been posting the content of this book in this blog for almost two years now, and will continue to do so until I have posted all 81 verses. If you’ve enjoyed it and want to have the complete work to hand, then this is for you! It’s been available to download on Kindle and Smashwords in ebook format for some time now, and the paperback edition looks beautiful I have to say. It’s a book that’s great for keeping at your bedside and dipping into for a little inspiration and insight.

Click here to view the book on Amazon US

Click here to view the book on Amazon UK

It should also be available in most other territories. The Smashwords ebook edition (which includes Kindle, ePub and many other formats) can be found here)

Hope you enjoy!

I’ve also just finished my second novel, which follows on from ELADRIA. It will be published in the Spring, along with a whole range of surprises. It’s a work I’m very proud of and a story that has been with me most my life. I can’t wait to share it with you. Hopefully now this major project is out the way, I will be able to get back into a more regular blogging routine!

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